Learn to swim, and love it

Garduque, Cerizo have grown from learn-to-swim participants to MIL champions

Sean Cerizo (left) and Patrick Garduque both started their life of swimming in the free learn-to-swim classes that are a partnership between Maui Swim Club and the County of Maui Department of Parks and Recreation. Both won Maui Interscholastic League titles earlier this year and are set to compete in this weekend’s Coach Soichi Sakamoto Invitational. The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo

KAHULUI — Sean Cerizo and Patrick Garduque are perfect examples of just what the decades-long free learn-to-swim class — which is a partnership between Maui Swim Club and the county — is all about.

Cerizo, who is finishing up his sophomore year at St. Anthony High School, and Garduque, a current freshman at Maui High, both won Maui Interscholastic League titles in January.

Both were also at MSC practice on Tuesday in preparation for the Coach Soichi Sakamoto Invitational, set for Saturday and Sunday at the Wailuku pool named after the legendary Valley Isle swimming coach.

Both recall being a bit scared when they did the learn-to-swim class, which was the brainchild of Spencer Shiraishi, the longtime MSC coach who died in 2013 at the age of 87.

“Oh, heck yeah,” Cerizo said of his first experience with the program as a 5-year-old. “I absolutely hated that I felt like I was going to drown, I felt like I was going to die every single time I got in that water, but I’m doing it for a living now, for high school and club.”

Now, swimming is a large part of a busy life for the reigning MIL 100-yard freestyle champion.

“Oh my goodness,” Cerizo said. “I didn’t really care much about club swimming, but high school swimming, yeah, top-3 MIL freshman year and MIL champion just this year, that’s been a big milestone for me to hit.”

Cerizo joined his father Matthew Cerizo, one of the first standouts coached by Shiraishi and a former swimmer at Texas A&M University, as an MIL champ.

“I’m going to come close to making his times, I’m going to try, but being kind of up there with my dad, it’s pretty cool,” Sean Cerizo said.

Sean Cerizo swam under Shiraishi briefly, but Matthew Cerizo made sure the legacy of Shiraishi lived on through sharing memories with his son.

“He told me that he was super incredible, very devoted, treated everyone like he was his own child,” Sean Cerizo said. “To this day we still use the megaphone in honor of (Shiraishi).”

The County of Maui Department of Parks and Recreation, Aquatics Division, recently announced the renewal of its partnership with the Maui Swim Club for the annual free learn-to-swim program.

Lessons are taught by MSC coach Kiki Matsumoto and experienced swim team members.

“It’s at least four decades old,” Matsumoto said of the learn-to-swim class. “It was Spencer’s baby, he loved the learn-to-swim program, he absolutely loved it. … We hand out 100 registration forms and when the 100th one is gone, the program is closed. You’ve got to come early.”

Matsumoto noted that the MSC advanced swimmers, many whom came through the program themselves, help with the instruction under Matsumoto’s guidance. The young instructors help make it a full-circle program.

“They really have to know what they are doing,” Matsumoto said of the youth instructors. “It really teaches them to give back to the community at a young age. And we’re all about that.

“One of the requirements for the parents of the summer learn-to-swim class is we make it mandatory that parents have to actually stay and watch their kids. We live in a drop-off society — everybody drops their kids, but we do not allow that.”

Garduque is also a product of the learn-to-swim program — he was a key member of two MIL championship relays and claimed the 100 butterfly title as well. Garduque was 8 when he started the class.

“I was really scared at first and then the instructors helped me get comfortable with the water,” Garduque said. “Sometimes I came earlier to the class and I saw the upper-class swimmers have a practice and then I just noticed how fast they were and I wanted to be as fast as them.”

The Sakamoto meet is marking its 45th annual run — it is named for the coach who tutored numerous national champions and Olympians by training them in the sugar cane irrigation streams in the 1930s and ’40s. Shiraishi was a driving force to starting the meet that is now the lone annual fundraiser for MSC.

“It means a lot to us,” Garduque said. “We put a lot of effort into the meet and we just love swimming with friends and having fun.”

For this summer’s learn-to-swim program, there is a mandatory parent meeting June 7 at 6 p.m. at Coach Spencer Shiraishi Memorial Pool, formerly known as the Kahului Pool, next to the Salvation Army building.

Swim lessons are held from 6-6:30 p.m. weekdays from June 10 to August 9. Children must be at least 5 years old by the program start date to participate. Rules for participation will be announced at the mandatory parent meeting. Space is limited to the first 100 applicants.

For more information, call Fran Yamamoto at 270-6138.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.